Is Apple a Boring Company Now?

isappleboring

Let’s be honest about what we really want from Apple this week. We all want to know if Apple can still blow us away, or if they’re just a boring company now.

There are two schools of thought.

Explaining Apple Boredom

The first, which I’ve described in this space before, is that Apple only appears boring between announcements. Instead of, say, the Android world where there’s big news every week, the Apple world is a news vacuum until Apple does its big reveal. If this is true, then in a few days Apple will be the ass-kicking innovative, industry-leading company that we remember and that we want them to be.

The second school of thought is that, yes, Apple makes great products but can no longer excite. Now that Apple founder Steve Jobs is no longer there to impose his unique brand of visionary totalitarianism, Apple is slouching toward normalcy — a company that’s more concerned about shareholders than changing the world. If that’s the case, then it’s the end of a thrilling era in technology.

We’re going to find out soon enough.

Boring Doesn’t Mean Bad

When I talk about Apple being a “boring” company, I don’t mean a company that makes second-rate products. Obviously they don’t. And I don’t mean an unsuccessful company. These things are unrelated.

And, to be sure, the constant excitement in the Android space — the new information, new products and new capabilities — doesn’t mean there are more-exciting products on the Android side.

The radical fragmentation of the Android world means that when you look at five killer announcements, they’re almost always one announcement per product. In order to get those five new features, you have to buy five phones.

Look at just one tiny example: smartphone photography. The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a higher-rez camera than the iPhone. The HTC One (arguably) takes better pictures in low light than the iPhone. Nikon and Samsung make actual digital cameras that run Android. Sony has a new Android phone that takes pictures and videos underwater. Japan’s NTT DoCoMo ships an app that combines panoramas with video. And, of course, the biggest and most exciting news in Android cameras is Google Glass, which both itself nominally runs Android and is enhanced by connectivity to Android apps on a nearby phone.

This constant drumbeat of exciting news about innovations and new products in the Android camera space obscures the fact that if you really want the best camera-phone pictures and videos, you should buy a boring old iPhone 5. Each of those exciting announcements affects a different product.

There’s no connection between excitement and quality. So I’m not asking whether Apple makes bad products now. I’m asking: Can they still thrill, astonish and surprise? Or are those days over?

The Banality of Tim Cook

I suspect that part of the growing boredom over Apple comes from the fact that Apple CEO Tim Cook is one of the most boring people in the industry.

Worse, Cook tends to compensate for his dull, guarded speech with frustrating promises of things to come. There’s an old joke about IBM that has a woman saying: “My husband’s an IBM salesman. He sits on the edge of the bed and tells me how good it’s going to be when I finally get it.”

And that’s the pattern Tim Cook has fallen into. He’s always alluding to exciting, amazing things in development that he can’t talk about. This is a losing strategy. Nobody is excited when you raise their expectations. And when the future arrives, nobody is excited precisely because you already raised their expectations.

Comparing Cook with Jobs on the boredom scale is easy with two AllThingsD videos showing Jobs making the point that Apple just wants to make the best products with Cook at AllThingsD making the exact same, somewhat obvious point. But Jobs is electric. He draws you in and makes you lean forward. Cook is like watching paint dry. He puts you to sleep.

There’s not much Apple can do about this dimension of its increasingly boring reputation. Jobs is literally and perfectly irreplaceable.

But what Apple can do is surprise us. It won’t be easy.

Can Apple Still Surprise Us?

Everyone is expecting Apple to announce Monday a new iRadio service, a new, “flat” iOS 7, Mac OS X 10.9 and new laptops with Haswell chips.

Without any shocking, mind-blowing features we didn’t know about, none of these announcements will lift the boredom curse. In fact, most of us are already tired of hearing the rumors about these things.

Even the exciting things have been so long-rumored that the reality threatens to disappoint. The iWatch. The TV set. These would be nice. But even they may not save Apple from the boring label because they’ve been so heavily rumored and illustrated with fan concepts that at this point they’re mere expectations.

What everyone wants to know is: Can Apple still surprise and shock and thrill us? Or are they just another company that’s constantly telling that they can’t tell us about all the exciting things they’re working on and that they’ll ship some day.

Here’s the thing: We won’t know if Apple is now a boring company until the fall announcement. The reason is that they’re more likely to announce big-ticket, category-creating consumer products like iWatches and TVs closer to the holidays, not necessarily at a developers’ conference.

So, as always, a boring WWDC does not a boring Apple make. As Tim Cook is always telling us: We’ll have to wait and see.

Still, I’d love a killer surprise Monday.

Come on, Apple. Just one more thing.

  • 10dierDidier

    As I know, as a French creative designer who is fan of Apple Brand products and branding strategy since more than 20 years, I would answer YES.
    -Based on what?
    •There is/was only ONE S. Jobs. One Mozart. One Galilee. Jobs was a kind of person to say “Ok, We go”, when all the departments of R&D was saying “certainly DON’T go in this direction”. That’s called RISK. Bet.
    At the same time, maybe was it a bit “easier” at this time? (now which the shareholders…).
    • Secundo, what we read in the different tons of media after he passed away, he was not very… “kind” when was coming negotiations…A kind of “shark” but very hungry. I guess it was a kind of personal revenge since Apple sacked him long time ago?

    These few traits of his characters explain, tend to, maybe give an idea of, why I think Apple now has to face a gigantic bet, to prove us they still can give us the WOW effect….

    For now… It’s quite boring. And it’s NOT a Watch that will make me change my opinion…

    What could be THE idea that will make people do the WOW?

    I’m thinking about… A CAR… ; )

    [ P.S.: sorry for my frenglish.. ; )

  • aardman

    I’m with Didier. Deep in the bowels of my psyche is the subversive wish that Apple acquires . . . Tesla. And give it the full Apple treatment.

  • booree

    Whit Jonny Ive on board .. who has a free hand with the ideas (assured by SJ) I wouldn’t be worried about the designing, ideas and new products .. I am worried only about the only thing Steve could do .. pushing products out with a magic touch .. and forcing the counterparts to do things the way apple (he) wants to do.

  • That_Dan_Person

    But what could Apple possibly do to their products that will blow us all away? The only thing they could do with the Macbook line is throw out the DVD drive, which they are slowly doing, and build in 4G. I can’t see what else do with the iPhone. Maybe a bigger screen? The iPad line there is nothing new they could do except for making them lighter and thinner. I do believe they will kill off the Mac Pro. I can see Apple finally killing off the iPod classic as well this year.

  • tdmac

    Spot on Mike. I can say that if they don’t offer a larger screen iPhone soon, then the HTC One I picked up recently will become my main phone. Carrying both that and the iPhone5 currently, and am really impressed with the big 1080 HD screen (it is sweet and I can see why Andy I. has gone off the ranch…)
    I think more and more techies are going this way, and when family and friends ask what I prefer, I admit it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend the iPhone (like I’ve been doing for years). I’ve had to recommend the HTC One to more than a few people and this is the main point I’m trying to make….
    Get it together Apple! Give the people a large screen iPhone!!

  • technochick

    But what could Apple possibly do to their products that will blow us all away?

    At this point there is really only one thing that Apple could do that would blow everyone (geek and non geek) away.

    Stop making them. That’s right, Apple could stop making hardware and just go back to licensing their software to OEMs to be cloned.

    Anything else and someone is always going to hate. too simple for the geeks, too complex for the grannies and so on

  • Steven Quan

    But what could Apple possibly do to their products that will blow us all away? I do believe they will kill off the Mac Pro. I can see Apple finally killing off the iPod classic as well this year.

    Kill off the Mac Pro? If what I’ve read is true this will definitely not be the case, in fact, just the opposite. Supposedly the Mac Pro manufacture is coming back to the U.S. If that’s the case then it will probably be back in a big way, relatively speaking, since it’s a niche in a niche market.

  • Steven Quan

    Whit Jonny Ive on board .. who has a free hand with the ideas (assured by SJ) I wouldn’t be worried about the designing, ideas and new products .. I am worried only about the only thing Steve could do .. pushing products out with a magic touch .. and forcing the counterparts to do things the way apple (he) wants to do.

    The things you mention, designing, ideas, and new products are all related to pushing product out. It was Steve Jobs’ idea to have the touch screen on the iPhone which ATT refused (ATT wanted a slideout keyboard). It was only at Jobs’ insistence that ATT finally gave in. Jony Ive may come up with great ideas as well, but without the weight and charisma to push those ideas out, it may be for naught.

  • Alexander530

    A product will always speak for itself. I’d rather rely on that than a gimmicky and exciting presentation. Apple haters have always attacked Apple for producing successful products out of hype and effective marketing. And now that Apple is laying low on the hype and marketing, they’re being accused of starting to be boring. So which is it? Haters will hate, and a great product will always speak for itself because regardless of how boring Tim Cook is, iPhone users know how great well made Apple products are.

  • Alexander530

    Blame the media for spreading rumors and speculations to attract readers. Luckily, Apple users are smart enough to understand how blog sites and the media people work. Only ignorant people would take what the media releases to be facts.

  • chellyx0

    Since SJ has passed the products Apple has been giving isn’t as creative as before ex: the iPhone 5, what really makes it so much better than the 4/4S besides new dimensions and hardware? In the computer industry they are doing just fine, but as far as smartphones, they are falling behind greatly. I was reading an article on what somebody wanted in OS7 and all I could think was, my GS3 can do all of that. iPhones are a great phone don’t get me wrong, but no way could I dish out $400 on another phone my iPhone 4 could have done already when my upgrade came around. Apple was setting the standards for the smartphone industry, but now they are falling behind in the game they created. I will still keep an eye on Apple and hope for the best, and am still hoping to get an iMac in the near future, but no iPhone until I am wowed again.

  • MrsCleaver

    “Is Apple a Boring Company Now?”

    No. It is not a boring company. Only during the Sculley years was it a boring company. My educated guess is that Apple will continue to innovate for many years to come. I could be wrong, of course… but I don’t think so.

  • guygubi

    The iPad considered boring when it lunched: everybody knew about it before the announcement and all the media called it just a big iPhone. We all know how this “boring” product change the industry…
    “boring” iWatch and iTV will change those industries as well.
    “exciting” Google Glass will be a very niche product.
    2 surprising things Apple could (and should) do are:
    1. New iWork with version for Windows
    2. Search engine

  • JaySt

    Technology writers from well known publications are obsessed in damaging Apple reputation and success. The author of this article mentioned It will be dificle to surprise and thrill consumers because the ongoing rumours about new Apple products kills the surprise factor. However, is authors like him that creates and spreads these rumours to the public! People are too obsessed and want new products and services lunched every 3-6 months. This is unrealistic! The iPhone 5, which came with a new and better design, and the iPad mini where released less then a year ago and they’re already demanding and expect Apple to lunch a new iPhone and iPad mini! One thing I think Apple delayed for far too long is a new, refreshed and improved iOS version. In this aspect Google has being more innovative and more conscient that software needs big regular improvements. In my opinion the nature of software can and must have major improvements much more frequent then hardware. There’s is no doubt in my mind that TIm Cook must take more serious feedback from Apple fans and customers, evolve and adapt to consumers tastes and the evolving technology advances. One thing that would undoubtedly please Apple fans and make it cutting edge is Apple to make iOS more flexible and productive whilst still keep it secure and stable. I see this as simply a matter of Apple capitalising on its massive profits by investing more in research and keeping savvy on the all important commercial awareness and strategic planning.

  • JaySt

    Edited
    Technology writers from well known publications are obsessed in damaging Apple reputation and success. The author of this article mentioned it will not be possible for Apple to surprise and thrill consumers. That the ongoing rumours about new Apple products kills the surprise factor and any new Apple product will disappoint consumers and fans. However, in reality it’s authors like him that creates and spreads these rumours to the public in the first place! People are too obsessed and want new products and services launched every 3-6 months. This is unrealistic! The iPhone 5, which came with a new and better design, and the iPad mini where released less then a year ago and these tech bloggers and writers are already demanding and expect Apple to lunch a new iPhone and iPad mini! Companies like Samsung have dozens of different phones models and release new ones all the time. But this mass flooding of devices on the market by these companies doesn’t equates to quality and innovation. One thing I think Apple delayed for far too long is a new, refreshed and improved iOS version. In this aspect Google has being more innovative and savvy that software needs big regular improvements. In my opinion the nature of software can and must have major improvements much more frequent then hardware. There’s is no doubt in my mind that TIm Cook must take more serious feedback from Apple fans and customers, evolve and adapt to consumers tastes and the evolving technology advances. One thing that would undoubtedly please Apple fans and make it cutting edge is Apple to make iOS more flexible and productive whilst still keep it secure and stable. I see this as simply a matter of Apple capitalising on its massive profits by investing more in research and keeping savvy on the all important commercial awareness and strategic planning.

  • Steve Peterson

    Oh, CoM…you’re become ridiculous. Leander Kahney must be spinning in his grave. This is just awful and lazy and pandering and insulting.

  • liblogic

    Mike Elgan, your posts are boring.

  • DrM47145

    The one thing we won’t see again is Steve Jobs’ magic on stage. And by magic I mean his excitement, his charisma, his sense of humor, his outstanding presence. But Apple is still going to be Apple, and Jony Ive has what it takes to make great products awesome, and has the potential to bring us some good magic to those thrilling Keynote speeches.

  • djcolley

    I’ll tell you what is boring Mike Elgan is boring. So boring, he goes on Leo Laporte’s TWIT show. A show full of old boring people. Boring to tears.

About the author

Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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